Are creative departments still ruled by Mad Men?

jennie-morris-creative-directorCampaign’s latest edition draws attention to an anomaly in today’s advertising industry: the lack of women in senior creative positions. Is the discrepancy due to creative departments still being viewed as male strongholds, like in the award-winning US series Mad Men set in 1960s’ adland? If not, what is standing in the way of creative women progressing?

“It’s a fact there are fewer women in this industry, and that number decreases as you climb higher up the ladder,” said Sabina Mustafa, creative group head at Brandcom Dubai. “Part of it could be, is if there are two creative directors, one a man and one a woman, I think a lot of time agencies would rather have the man in the front as the face of it. I’ve been fortunate, I haven’t faced that kind of discrimination.”

Chermine Assadian, a male creative director in Leo Burnett Beirut’s female-heavy department, felt some agencies responded to client expectations. “I can say that I’ve met many female senior creatives. But the problem is a bit more complicated when this person has to meet clients. Then the agency has to fit to the local culture. In our office, out of 4 creative directors, 3 are women. But then again, this is Lebanon not Saudi.”

Senior female creatives’ lack of visibility isn’t just a regional problem, though. For Jennie Morris, Impact BBDO Dubai’s creative director, it’s due to women having to make tough choices. “The senior creative positions are incredibly demanding and take some time to get there. You say ‘well look, I’m in my 30s and I can go for this or I can have a family’. It’s not impossible to do both but it’s really hard,” says Morris who manages both professional and parental obligations. “It’s that age-old thing, in as much as we want to be superwomen, it’s not always possible and it’s not always the right choice.”

Preethi Mariappan, founder of professional forum, Adwomen Middle East and creative director at Ogilvy One Dubai, felt other more exciting environments were superseding the ad industry’s pull. “There’s just a lot more other exciting options that you have now, so many other communication-based careers you can pursue, that maybe advertising hasn’t made that effort to be attractive to women, or in general.”

So why do you think women continue to be under-represented in senior creative positions? And, as suggested, can the industry really afford to remain so unappealing to them?


One Response to Are creative departments still ruled by Mad Men?

  1. Tom Roychoudhury says:

    Jennie Morris has hit the nail on the head. Today’s women are making difficult choices, and those choices are veering away from being superwomen and headed towards finding a balance – being mother, being director of all things creative at home and finding time for her self. Advertising top positions have always been very demanding on time, time carved out of me-time, sliced away from time spent at home, away from recreation and life balance. Women are at a new cross road, and they are today self empowered, self confident enough to walk the road less travelled – the road away from glory in advertising, that comes with enough baggage.

    There are exceptions of course. Like the several women highlighted in the column, there are plenty of talented, hard working (but balanced) women who have crashed through the gender ceiling. Milka Pogliani, Chairperson of the European Creative Council for McCann Worldgroup, EMEA is an example. Interestingly enough the entire top management at Fortune Promoseven’s Cairo operations are all – you guessed it – women. As also with Universal Media there.

    Michelle Bachelet, the President of Chile once commented that women leaders are judged more harshly than men. Perhaps that’s true in advertising, and particularly in the creative departments. But blaming this on Middle East cultural barriers cannot hold water for much longer.

    And finally, if I may get away with saying it, perhaps women are less viciously ambitious, less motivated about pure personal triumph and less likely to stab, slash and obliterate anything in their way than us guys are.

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